In the summer of 1985, political and business leaders announced plans to create a major new port authority and build a 700-acre commercial barge shipping center on this floodplain. To some, the idea seemed to make economic sense. But others knew that the Oxbow area was already serving well in its natural state. Sportsmen had long used the area for hunting and fishing. Conservationists explained that the Oxbow was a key area of vital importance to native wildlife. They enlisted the help of the local Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and other conservationists. They began writing letters and calling their state representatives. Once legislators understood the complex nature of the Oxbow and its value for wildlife, they dropped plans for legislation that would have created the port authority.
Conservationists had now been alerted to the fact that the Oxbow area might no longer be safe from development unless they made serious concerted effort to protect it. Their determination led to the birth of Oxbow, Inc., which rapidly became one of the more active and successful conservation groups in the Ohio Valley.
Within two years, Oxbow, Inc. grew to 700 members and raised more than $50,000 in generous private sector gifts ranging from a few dollars to thousands of dollars each. It had also made its first land purchase, a strategically located 27.5 acre block of farm land in the heart of the Oxbow area. As funds permitted more land and conservation easements were purchased. Oxbow now owns over 850 acres of wetland with another 260 acres under easement to prevent development.
In the central Ohio Valley, the most important remaining wetland is a 2500-acre spread of level river bottom farmland on the shore of the Ohio River, know as the Oxbow. The Oxbow is a broad floodplain where the Great Miami River empties into the Ohio. This area where three states - Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky - come together, is near Lawrenceburg, Indiana, seventeen miles downstream from Cincinnati. It is named for a small horseshoe, or oxbow-shaped lake, formed when flood waters cut a new course for the Great Miami River, isolating a meander in the old stream bed. There is not a building on it. Almost every year it is flooded with shallow waters that deposit nutrients from upstream. This annual enrichment, plus a water table close the surface, makes the Oxbow area a highly productive land for farming.